The X100 is designed to mimic the experience of using a mechanical rangefinder, and is therefore very much set up for two-handed operation, with your left hand operating the on-lens controls. The aperture ring has a pair of tabs on the side to make it easier to grasp, and just a slight shift in grip is required to operate the manual focus ring. Meanwhile the shutter speed and exposure compensation dials are well-placed for operation by your right hand, as is the red-tipped switch on the front of the camera for switching between the optical and electronic viewfinder.

The X100's combination of 'traditional' design and excellent viewfinder makes it a joy to shoot with, most of the time. The shutter speed dial, aperture ring and exposure compensation dial together encourage you to take control over the picture-taking process, especially given the real-time feedback about exposure offered by the live histogram (although this doesn't work in manual exposure mode). And, as long as you keep ISO assigned to the Fn button, this third key exposure parameter can also be accessed and changed relatively seamlessly as well.

In your hand

The X100 has the subtlest, most minimal of handgrips, but it’s just sufficient to prevent the camera slipping out of your hand. The shutter button falls naturally under your index finger, just as it should. There's sufficient button-free space on the back of the camera to provide a positive grip for your thumb. The jog lever on the right shoulder, AEL/AFL button and rear dial are all within easy reach of your thumb.

Overall operation and user experience

The good news about the X100 is that the analog dial part of the control layout works very well. The traditional shutter speed dial and aperture ring make it very straightforward to take control of the exposure settings, which positively encourages you to take creative control. If we have one criticism, it's that the exposure compensation dial is a little loose and can be easily nudged on taking the camera out of a bag, but on the plus side it's also very easy to operate with the camera to your eye.

The hybrid viewfinder is excellent in practical use too. Perhaps what's most striking about the X100 is the way the three viewing modes complement each other extremely well - you can choose the optical finder for its immediacy and sense of connection to the scene, or the electronic finder for critical composition and its ability to give a reasonable preview of exposure. Finally the rear LCD shouldn't be dismissed - it's sharp and detailed and, like the EVF, gives both a 100% view and exposure preview.

Unfortunately, the button-driven, 'digital' side to the camera's control setup is rather less immediate and satisfying. The big problem is the firmware, which even after a load of bug-fixes, isn't particularly great. It's overly-complex and buggy, with poorly organized menus and inconsistent logic to the button-driven operations. In fact rather than developing firmware from scratch that's specifically tailored to the X100's characteristics and strengths, Fujifilm almost appears to have attempted to shoe-horn in something borrowed from one of its consumer zoom compacts, complete with 'Tag for upload to Facebook' command. And as you might expect, it hasn't gone well at all.

Specific handling issues

There's a saying that beauty is only skin-deep, and sadly in the X100's case there's more than a grain of truth to it. The camera is best described as 'quirky' in operation, and the poor placement of certain key options deep in the menu system means that a lot of button-pressing is required to make the most of its abilities. This is especially disappointing for a camera that has so many buttons, dials and switches adorning its body.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the 4-way controller that's used to navigate the menus is the least-successful of all of the camera's controls, and the Menu/OK button in the center is small and not very positive. It's also a little slow and laggy in operation, making menu navigation just a little frustrating. Meanwhile the rear dial is quite small and fiddly to operate, rotating rather too freely: there are click-stops every 45 degrees but they're nowhere near positive enough, which makes it all-too-easy to miss the option you're aiming for. It's not the worst we've used, but far from the best either.

The X100's rear dial and jog lever are both somewhat under-utilized, and disappointingly neither can be customised in any way. They're used for fine-tuning exposure settings, but we'd love to see the option of assigning them to other functions - for example the direct control of ISO or flash exposure compensation. We'd like to see the RAW button customisable too.

We don't like the focus mode selection switch very much, either; the problem being that the most-used setting, AF-S, is the middle of the three options, and is fiddly to select. The AF point selection button is notably poorly-placed for operation with the camera up to your eye, too.

Yet despite all of this external control, some key settings are still buried within the menu system, the most important of which are Auto ISO, dynamic range expansion, ND filter setting, and flash exposure compensation. If you're happy to run the X100 using Auto ISO all the time (which to be fair does work unusually well), then there's an argument for placing DR or the ND filter onto the Fn button for easier access. But overall too many features are too slow to access for a camera of this price - the X100 really cries out for some kind of Quick Menu and a higher level of customizability of its external controls.

None of these flaws are necessarily deal-breakers, but a huge attraction of the X100 is that it promises to emulate old-fashioned mechanically-controlled rangefinders, which many photographers love for their ability to 'get out of the way' while you're shooting. Sadly the X100 doesn't quite achieve this goal. Instead it feels very much like a first-generation product, with unrefined firmware that feels like it wasn't so much finished as abandoned. See the appendix at the end of this review; 'Bugs, Quirks and Eccentricities' for a detailed breakdown.

ISO setting and Auto ISO control

The elephant in the room with regards to the X100's 'traditional' handling is ISO: a dial to control this key function is conspicuous by its absence. By default ISO is set using the 'Fn' button, but if you decide you want to use this to operate something else (such as the ND filter) instead, then ISO can only be set by delving into the menus. For a camera with professional aspirations, this is hugely disappointing. We feel that changing the ISO on a shot-by-shot basis should be just as easy as changing the shutter speed or aperture.

Fortunately Fujifilm has implemented a highly-customizable version of Auto ISO that uses essentially the same logic as Nikon DSLRs (but which arguably makes more sense on the X100, given its fixed prime lens). You can set both the minimum shutter speed, with a good range of options around the key (1/effective focal length) range, and the maximum ISO you want the camera to use; unfortunately though the highest available ISO limit is 3200, meaning you can't ever access 6400 in Auto.

X100 ISO Auto Control Menu Options
ISO Auto Control Off, On
Max Sensitivity 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Min Shutter Speed 1/125, 1/100, 1/80, 1/60, 1/40, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4 sec

Just like Nikon SLRs, the X100 also uses the currently-set ISO (via the menu or Fn button) as the preferred minimum value, only selecting a lower ISO if there's no other way to avoid overexposure. However this is also influenced by the DR setting - if DR is set to Auto or 400% the camera will aim to use ISO 800 whenever it can, dropping to ISO 400 at DR 200. This complex behaviour means that it can be easy to lose track of what exactly what's going on - especially as it's not described in the manual.

Auto ISO is not set using the ISO menu (or Fn button), but instead is enabled and configured in the Set-up menu. Unfortunately though it's right at the bottom of page 3, below much less commonly-changed functions like the faux-shutter sound selection and language setting, which means it takes at least 23 button presses to turn on or off following power-on. This also leaves it illogically separated from ISO itself, which is located in the Shooting menu. Luckily with FW 1.1 there's now a shortcut to accessing it; press and hold the 'Fn' button for 3 seconds to access its customisation menu, then 'left' to enter the main menu and 'down' to Auto ISO.

Also changed in FW1.1 is the way the Auto ISO setting is displayed. Previously the camera showed 'ISO Auto' followed by the Max Sensitivity limit, but now it shows the value set in the ISO menu instead (presumably in an attempt to make it clearer that this will be used as the preferred minimum). So if ISO is set to 400 and Max Sensitivity to 3200, the X100 now displays 'ISO Auto 400' rather than 'ISO Auto 3200'. On a half-press of the shutter button, the value will change to show the ISO that will actually be used.

This is all well and good, but if the set ISO is higher than the Auto limit it stops making much sense, and can even be potentially misleading. So if ISO is set to 6400 and Max Sensitivity to 1600, the camera will display 'ISO Auto 6400' but then refuse to use anything other than 1600. Of course this is easy enough to understand once you know what's going on, but we're not quite sure why Fujifilm can't just show the currently-available range (given the high-res screen and LCD).

Auto ISO is available when using manual exposure, but disappointingly it doesn't respect the exposure compensation setting in this mode, which reduces its usefulness.

Program shift

For users who like to shoot in program exposure mode, leaving both shutter speed and aperture setting to the camera, the X100 offers program shift so you can bias any specific shot to a preferred shutter speed or aperture. This can be done using either the rear dial or the thumb lever (both do essentially the same thing); the changed values are displayed in yellow in the viewfinder. There's nothing particularly remarkable about this, but (not for the first time) the X100 doesn't behave quite as you might expect.

Program shift won't work if ISO Auto Control is enabled or Dynamic Range is set to Auto, and it only works if the flash mode is set to Suppressed. Also, inexplicably, the camera continues to count dial and thumb lever movements that would correspond to setting the aperture wider than F2 or smaller than F16. For example, if you're at F2 and flick the lever to the right five times, you have to flick it back to the left five times before the lens will begin to stop down again.